Monthly Archives: December 2008

And Tango Makes Three: anti-ethnic penguins?

It was recently called to my attention that on the ALA’s list of the “10 Most Challenged Books,” And Tango Makes Three is listed as being challenged not only for the to-be-expected reasons such as “homosexuality” (although at least one of those penguins could probably be considered bi), being “anti-family” (ironic, yes, when alleged regarding a book about a young family, but not unexpected), and “religious viewpoint” (because we all know those penguins can have pretty strong views on religion), but also as being. among other things, anti-ethnic.

Anti-ethnic, I thought.  Hmm, that seems odd.It’s a non-fiction story about penguins. I wasn’t aware that penguins even *had* ethnicities.What does anti-ethnic mean, anyway? Is it the same as racism?

And so began my little search, which is currently in-process.

1) Anti-ethnic?

The source of the information that Tango is allegedly anti-ethnic is the aforementioned ALA list, which says:

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2007” reflect a range of themes, and comprises the following titles:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

Interestingly, if you dig up the 2006 top 10 challenged books list, Tango had a much shorter list of offenses:

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2006” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

* “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group

From this, I assume anti-ethnic must be a new-ish allegation (along with religious viewpoint and sexism).

2) Where did the term “anti-ethnic” come from?

Source of the allegation documentation pinned down, I wondered if perhaps “anti-ethnic” was just something someone made up in a fit of anger about the book.  “It’s not just homosexual and against my religious viewpoint, it’s also, uh, em, sexist!  And…uh….anti-ethnic!  Yeah, anti-ethnic, that’s what.”

However, I found “anti-ethnic” as a checkbox category on the ALA book challenge form (PDF here).

Anti-ethnic’s checkbox on this form is a separate category from racism, which has its own checkbox. Now I really want to know how this distinction was drawn, and how library staff all over the continent are supposed to know which box to check for what type of complaint!

And I am still curious about what makes penguins anti-ethnic.

3) What else is “anti-ethnic”?

I thought that maybe if I found what other books had been challenged as anti-ethnic, perhaps that would shed some light on the allegation.It turns out that anti-ethnic is not a common challenge category, comparatively.  However, there are other examples.

Such as Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning graphic novel, challenged as anti-ethnic in Oregon.

And Tintin – specifically The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh in Canada. (Interestingly the same 2007 Canadian survey lists Tango under the categories of homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint & age inappropriate, but not anti-ethnic.  Maybe next year?)

I’ve sent a query to the ALA OIF and will update when I hear back about the detials of the anti-ethnic allegation in general and as it pertains to penguins in particular.



Filed under censorship, Intellectual freedom, public libraries, publishing, racism, school libraries, youth

On saying “no” (or at least “no, but”)

Like so many of you, I have taken on too much. *sigh*

Like many librarians, I’m a pleaser.  I want to say “yes.” Oh, I may buck at authority structures, but really, I want to make the world a better place and everyone’s day brighter. (Obviously, unlike some bloggers, I have never been accused of being the incorrigibly pessimistic Annoyed Librarian.)

I want to find the best answer to your ref question, I want to reform your small dysfunctional non-profit, I want to find the book that will turn the head of your reluctant reader, and I want to do everything brilliantly and on time.

Of course I also want to have a life. Ha ha.

I tend to attribute this personality trait of mine to being socialized as a girl child (particularly within my educated, middle class social location) but I think there is also an element of people-pleasing in the culture of niceness endemic to librarianship.  (Not all together separable, seeing as it’s a largely feminized profession, but I digress…)

However, knowing I’m not alone in this boat, I wanted to share a nice moment I had recently. I was approached to do a little sideline work (yes, *more* work…the last thing I need, right? oy.). And it was work I wanted to do – work I knew I could do well, was of interest to me, and I felt could make a difference in the world.

I had a heads-up that this work offer might be coming, so I had a couple of days in which to dither about it. So I dithered. I mentioned it to my partner who emphasized to me that I do not need more work. I journalled about it: how I don’t need more work, but didn’t it sound cool, and how unfortunate that it had to happen now.  I thought about who I could recommend that would be a good fit for the contract and might have the time to squeeze it in. So when the official approach came, I was more or less prepared to say “no.”

But it was still hard! I sat with my email reply window staring at me for a few minutes before beginning to type.  I dithered some more. Waffled a bit.  Looked at my calendar up down and sideways, wondering if there were perhaps some secret extra day in the week I just hadn’t noticed yet. Worried about turning down paid work in this kinda-scary economy. And eventually responded, as I knew I would have to, that I was interested but just unable to commit to more work at this time.

I also added that I was sorry to have to pass up this opportunity, that I’d love to be kept in mind for future work along the same lines, and when I expected that I would be more available to take on such a new project. <–This is something I learned from my partner, who is a health care practitioner in private practice and has to manage wait lists, plan contracts in advance, make referrals, etc. Some people just want a referral to someone else if you’re too busy, and others want to wait until you are available. It sounds uber-obvious when I lay it out like this, but for me it’s still a struggle to transition from “I can do everything…until I burn out and then I can’t!” to “I can’t do this now but let me be upfront and tell you if and when I could do something similar so you can make an educated decision about your next steps.” It’s still hard to say “no,” even when it’s “no, but.”

I’m excited to be setting those boundaries. It’s how I would want to be treated. And it tends to work out well, in my experience, as others seem to appreciate the honesty and do come back later when I have said I’d have more time.  Giving me yet more work, of course, but at least it’s getting more manageable the more I say “no” and the better I get at sussing out and pinning down early on in a proposal/offer exactly what the parameters of the work will be.


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Sucked into teacher-librarian advocacy, part I

I’m feeling terrible bad-blogger guilt at the close of this autumn, for not having posted as much as I intended.  Oh, if only you could see the many drafts I have written, but haven’t had the time to polish enough to feel confident putting out there for the world!  Typical blogger’s lament, I know.  I’m working on it, and should be getting some time to edit and roll out some of my thoughts from the past months soon. I’m busy, but so are all of you. Here’s one of the things that has been keeping me so busy this fall:

Yeah, there’s the work and teaching and coordinating a lecture series, and parenting and professional organization stuff, serving on boards, and yeah there’s family and oh yeah the class I’m taking too, and keeping up the house and garden, but then there was this one unexpected thing that tipped my scale from being regular quite-busy to too-much busy, and that is my son’s school library.

It’s not right.

Let me clarify.  What is right about his school library is, well, the school library. The collection makes me drool.  I want to sit in there for days and read all the graphic and young adult novels, and my son wants to sit in there for days and read all of those atrocious formulaic rainbow fairy books.  The other thing that’s right is that there is an enthusiastic and way qualified (both MLIS and education degrees, plus plenty of library experience!) teacher-librarian who seems to have great relationships with the kids.

What isn’t right is that, unless I take my son in early before school, he doesn’t ever actually get to see said teacher-librarian this year.

Here’s how it all began:

On the first day of school, we dropped off our son for the one hour headcount they do on that first day.  Having a short period of time to kill, we and some other parents decided to go check out the school library, maybe meet the librarian if she was available.  My son had a rough kindergarten year, and library time was the reliable highlight of his week.  Additionally, since he’s in French immersion and neither half of his parental unit speaks French, the regular rotation of level-appropriate French books to stumble through together was very much appreciated.

I had a bit of bad-librarian-no-biscuit feeling over not even knowing where to find the school library, but I got over it. We all introduced ourselves, got a quick tour (highlights: the new & hot books display and graphic novels book truck), drifted around the room a bit (jammed with books and enough workspace for a class to do research; no room for computers) and eventually came to the desk to chat again.  We thanked the librarian for her time (she told us to come back anytime; that she loves to have parents and families around!) and I asked her when my son would be having library time with her this year.

<Insert LP rrrrrriiiiip sound here.>

Oh, well, our kids wouldn’t exactly be having library time this year.  You see, the teacher-librarian time had been cut back yet more for this year to less than half time, and as a result many classes wouldn’t be having library time.  However, the teacher-librarian assured us she was determined to find a way to get all the kids in to at least do book exchange every week, in order to make sure that, at minimum, all kids had a supply of reading material. (This is super important in our school b/c we have a TON of language learners — ESL kids in English classes and FSL kids in French immersion — and a lot of these kids don’t have books at home in their new language.)

Wait a minute.

We just came off a pretty heinous first year of school.  And now, well, hopefully we’ll have a better year this time around, with a new teacher and all, but you are telling me that the best part of school last year will not happen anymore because of cutbacks?


And so began my foray into the world of school library advocacy. I don’t much like school.  You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a school. Honestly, I have my days when I just want to yank my kid out before he turns into a soul-sucked zombie (fortunately, I am able to see that some of this urge is my own post-school trauma, and try to just wait and see how things go for him before plunging our family into economic uncertainty by trying to homeschool in this city!).  But I do believe in public education. I think it’s a core element of democracy. It’s why I went into librarianship – because I thought libraries were true centres of public education.  And I do know from experience that if we don’t fight for our public education systems they are quickly eroded.

Thus, little old school-phobic me sat thorugh PAC meetings (very scary; should serve beer not cookies!), begged and borrowed information and statistics from anyone in the school system or teacher’s union I could get a hold of, started a friends of our school library group, got my partner to coordinate parent volunteers for the school library (thankfully she’s a former teacher so she has a higher school threshhold than I), met with members of a larger school libraries advocacy group, the principal, the vice principal, the school librarian, dragged the kid to school board candidate forums to ask about libraries…oy. Now other parents know me as “the library mum,” and I cannot step on school ground without getting questions about volunteer orientation, which political parties have the best platform for libraries, etc.  Which is all wonderful and yet….tiring.

The school library situation has been a classic case of seeing something that’s obviously not-right and talking to people, finding out we all agreed that it wasn’t right and thinking that, just because we all supposedly agree on what’s wrong, fixing it would be easy. Ha. The responses to our first round of letter-writing quickly put a damper on those hopes.

It’s going to be a long row to hoe.  There are issues at many levels. Here, teacher-librarians used to be a line item in provincial school funding budgets until 2002.  Next opportunity for the teacher’s union to address that will be in 2010, as I understand it. We may or may not have a new provincial government by then. Then at the local level, well, there are definitely neighbouring cities that are somehow getting more library services out of their budgets.  We have an almost entirely new school board as of last month, so hopefully they’ll be able to better advocate for literacy.  And at a school level, I was shocked to find out that our “good” school is among the worst (if not the worst – statistics I obtained were incomplete so some non-reporting schools may be worse off) in the district for teacher-librarian FTE per student population.

There’s plenty of research on school libraries and teacher-librarians improving literacy, raising those damned standardized test scores, and being a force for equity among populations. Yet I keep getting the message that school libraries are being cut so we can better serve our ESL, special needs and poorer populations. It’s so frustrating, and such an excuse for maintaining the status quo!  When the wealthier schools have better libraries, this is an equity issue, and it needs to be detangled from arguments about ESL or special needs funding.

So, there’s a bit on what has been keeping me too-busy this fall.  I’m going to label this “Part I” as I’m sure there will be more of my ranting on the school library advocacy issue in future posts.  This all can get rather tiring and I could use some inspiration, so if you’ve had success in advocating for your school libraries, I’d love to hear your success stories.


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